But there has always been a method to Maddon’s madness, and he has the results to prove it. It’s impressive enough to take the Tampa Bay Rays to a World Series berth, but it is almost legendary to snap a 108-year jinx and help bring the Chicago Cubs their first World Series title since 1908.
In Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon (Triumph Books; hardback; $25.95; 294 pages) co-authors Bill Chastain and Jesse Rogers trace the long path Maddon traveled to become one of the top managers in major league baseball. Chastain was The Tampa Tribune’s original beat writer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when the team entered the American League in 1998, and he currently covers the Rays for MLB.com. Rogers, a longtime observer of the Chicago sports scene, has been a mainstay for ESPN on radio, television and the internet since 2009.
Both men have seen Maddon at various stages of his career, so it’s a nice blend to get perspectives from two different writers.
The book’s title came from a meeting Maddon had with Javier Baez when the 22-year-old player was promoted to the Cubs from the minor leagues. Maddon, wanting to put the young player at ease, stressed the importance of being a professional and not wanting to embarrass yourself. In typical Maddon fashion, his words came out as “try not to suck.”
The phrase stuck, and the Cubs’ marketing department had a field day with it. Maddon is a quotable guy, and both Chastain and Rogers provide plenty of examples: Embrace the target, do simple better, and 9=8 are some of the more memorable ones.
Maddon’s story is one of determination and grit. He paid his dues in the minor leagues as a coach and manager and served a successful apprenticeship as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for the Angels in the early 2000s — a period that included a World Series title in 2002. After being passed over as a managerial candidate, Maddon finally landed with Tampa Bay — considered a graveyard of a franchise — when he was hired as manager in November 2005.
Maddon introduced a new culture that was felt in the clubhouse and noticed by the media and fans. Sportswriters discovered that Maddon was a quotable manager whose perspective went beyond baseball. Even during his rocky first season, Maddon kept his perspective. One radio talk show host derisively referred to him as “Merlot Joe,” citing Maddon’s fondness for good wine, but even that phrase was endearing. While Maddon could argue with the umpires when needed, he was never going to be confused with Billy Martin or Earl Weaver. But things began to change in Tampa Bay.
Behind Maddon's laid-back façade was a manager who had a burning desire to win. It resulted in an American League pennant and World Series appearance in 2008, and it looked as if Maddon would be a fixture in Tampa Bay for many years.
That changed when a loophole in his contract allowed him to jump to the Chicago Cubs in 2015. With the Cubs’ storied history and a front office that wasn’t afraid to spend some cash, Maddon got the team into the playoffs in 2015 and in the World Series for the first time in 71 years in 2016. After a frenetic seven-game triumph over the Cleveland Indians, Maddon and the Cubs were the toast of the baseball world.
It would be easy to say that a biography about Maddon “writes itself,” but that would be a disservice to the authors. Both Chastain and Rogers conducted interviews with players and managers and had three interviews with Maddon. Research included 19 publications and a website, so there was a good cross-section of information to find.
Maddon came from a hard-working family and gained a reputation as a sound baseball man who leveled with his players. That is what the reader will find most endearing in Try Not to Suck. Maddon’s gimmicks to keep a clubhouse loose are interesting and amusing, but the bottom line is that he commands respect and knows the game.
Chastain and Rogers achieve that with an easy writing style. Chastain has always excelled at storytelling, so this project was a nice fit. As Maddon and the Cubs prepare to chase another World Series title in 2018, communication and innovation will be key elements. A blueprint on how it can be achieved can be found in the pages written by Chastain and Rogers.